FOI: When “Sorry, we haven’t got this information” becomes “Oh yes, here it is.”

One of the questions I’m asked when I do Freedom of Information workshops is: “What should I do if an authority  tells me they don’t hold the information I’ve asked for?”

Until this week, I thought the answer was simple: There’s not much you can do. They say they don’t have the information, so they can’t really send it to you – can they?

Then I stumbled across this story from the Croydon Advertiser. In a nutshell, a local man had asked the council how much it had made in parking charges on days when parking was supposed to be free. The council at first said it did not record the information in that format – ie it didn’t record how much money was made in each car park on each day.

The local man replied by appealing against the decision to the Information Commissioner, and all of a sudden, reports the Advertiser, the information materialised. In other words, the council did have the information.

Breakdown in communication or something else? Either way, next time you’re told information you’d expect an authority to have isn’t held in the format you want, it might be worth complaining about it, just to see what turns up.


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